BLACK LIGHTNING joins the TOT opening rotation today, thereby opening me up to churlish online comments from those who have never created anything, or never created anything in which they can take pride, or who persist in believing the character was created under some mythical work-for-hire agreement that simply does not exist. I'm probably leaving out other disagreeable sorts here, but I don't want today's column to turn into The Official Handbook of Internet Idiots...though I would certainly buy such a tome.
If I write often of Black Lightning, it's because I am often asked about Black Lightning. It's a rare day that doesn't bring me an e-mail asking a question on my creation or expressing regard for him and for my stories. If anything, the questions and compliments have increased, probably because Brad Meltzer added him to the cast of BLACK LIGHTNING AND THE JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA.
What? That's not the title?
Eye of the beholder, baby.
Eye of the beholder.
What you're *not* getting today is an actual review of JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #1. Meltzer clearly has a big story a'building and I think I would do him and you a disservice to review it after reading the one issue. I'll review it after I've read a few more chapters. In the meantime, let's leave it at this:
What I will be doing today is discussing Black Lightning's JLA membership and related items. Future columns will cover anything else that comes along and answer frequently-asked Black Lightning questions. Eventually, sooner rather than later, I hope to create and post a "Tony Isabella's Black Lightning FAQ" in hopes of giving interested readers and researchers a kind of one-stop place to go for the answers to those questions.
Let's start with the obvious question:
How do I feel about Black Lightning joining the Justice League?
I'm delighted to see Black Lightning in the JLA. He's always had an open mind. For example, witness his unequivocal acceptance of gays (in the second BLACK LIGHTNING #5) as being in keeping with his Christian beliefs. Were I writing Jeff, he'd have realized the world has changed around him and that, more than ever, he's needed as a role model to young people and perhaps as a kind of conscience for the League. Back when Kurt Busiek was on tap to write JLA, he and I discussed that.
Yes, it's true...that impossible-to-deal-with lunatic Isabella was happy to have a conversation with a DC writer about how to use Black Lightning in their stories and get him right. Just as I have been happy to do with other DC writers, though very few have taken advantage of my generosity.
I hope I'm not betraying any confidences here, but Meltzer has been in touch with me, though not to discuss upcoming stories. I'm guardedly optimistic his regard for Jeff Pierce (as I wrote him) is very high and, because of this, I'm looking forward to seeing what he does with him.
What do I think of Black Lightning's new look?
I really hate the shaved head. This look has become something of a cliche for black action heroes. It's a fad of the moment and Jeff has never been a slave to fashion. The domino mask strikes me as kind of silly as well. Given my druthers - not that DC is ever smart enough to give me my druthers - I'd go with the Eddy Newell-designed costume and the Tony Isabella-suggested flashing lightning eyes. Now that was a cool look!
How is Meltzer doing so far?
Not bad. Previous writers never did anything of interest with Jeff being a member of President Lex Luthor's cabinet, but then DC has been treating Black Lightning as a bit player for years. They could have done terrific stories about a moral man who makes a hard decision to go to work for a bad man in order to do some good for the underprivileged students of a nation...and who then has to deal with the fallout from the super-hero community of which he had been a part. Instead, the concept seems to have been - though I don't know if it was made clear before Meltzer - that he was undercover, working for/with Batman and the other heroes to gain information on Luthor's schemes. It wasn't an unreasonable notion, but it did put Jeff in a subservient role.
Meltzer shows Jeff Pierce milking his role as a former "ally" of Luthor to gain intelligence on what villains are up to and then use that information to prevent crimes. Had I not been fired from my second Black Lightning series, Jeff might well be the mayor of Cleveland or the head of a political movement. I always intended to progress him from the champion of one neighborhood to a champion of a nation. But, alas, his years in virtual limbo has slowed that progress considerably.
Whether Meltzer knew it or not, there is precedent for Jeff's current activities. In the fifth issue of the original series, in a rooftop conversation with Superman, Black Lightning explained why he had to operate outside the law:
Take a good look at what goes on down there. The streets I grew up in have become infected with a vicious human cancer called the 100...and it's malignant as Hell!
Every day that disease eats away at our city at another part of our souls. They're all down there, pushers and pimps and vermin of every size and shape. And you can't stop them, Superman.
They see you coming and they just crawl right back into the gutters until you pass. It takes someone like me to fight them, someone who fights them where they're strongest.
In the gutters.
So, while I had hoped for better for my creation, his rubbing shoulders with criminals doesn't come out of nowhere. I just hope he becomes more than the JLA's "Matches Malone" in future issues of the title. I also wonder what will happen when Luthor learns Jeff has been acting on his "behalf."
I don't think that will go down easy.
That's all the Black Lightning business I have for you today. Check back in a couple of weeks for more.
ANNIHILATION FOR JUNE
Annihilus and his Annihilation Wave have invaded our universe and, in their wake, whole planets have been destroyed and billions of lives snuffed out. Marvel has been telling this epic tale in a quartet of four-issue series...and my coverage continues with the issues published in June. I don't recall mentioning this before, but most of these have a "time stamp" at the start of each issue, letting readers know how many days have passed since Annihilation Day, the day when Annihilus invaded our universe.
There will be SPOILERS ahead.
ANNIHILATION: NOVA #3 [$2.99] doesn't have the "time stamp," but seems to take place about a dozen days after the opening event. Nova has used his newly-augmented power - he's interfaced with the Worldmind that ruled Xandar and fueled the Nova Corps - to open a stargate and escape from the destroyed Xandar with Drax and Cammi. The trio hooks up with Quasar and joins the quantum-powered hero in evacuating the people of a planet in the path of the Annihilation Wave. Writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning bring home Nova's fears, indecision, and heroism in this tale...and do equally well with the supporting players. Artists Kev Walker (pencils) and Rick Magyar (inks) provide exciting visuals and smooth storytelling. The issue ends on one heck of a cliffhanger, something it shares with two of this month's other Annihilation issues. It's an impressive piece of work and it earns four out of five Tonys.
ANNIHILATION: SILVER SURFER #3 [$2.99] begins on Annihilation Day plus 20. Sought by minions of Annihilus, the Surfer has been joined by two other ex-heralds of Galactus, Firelord and Red Shift. Enter Stardust, the current herald of Galactus, carrying a request that the Surfer meet with his former master. That meeting and what it brought about took me by surprise and made this one of the best of the Annihilation chapters to date. Kudos to writer Keith Giffen and artist Renato Arlem; their outstanding work earned this issue four out of five Tonys.
It's Annihilation Day plus 65 as ANNIHILATION: SUPER-SKRULL #3 [$2.99] opens. The Super-Skrull has invaded a prison compound and captured the scientist who created the planet-busting Harvester of Souls. He's gathered a small army of freed prisoner and is taking the fight to the Annihilation Wave. It's another outstanding issue by writer Javier Grillo-Marxuach and artist Greg Titus...and it has the most shocking/surprising Annihilation twist yet. I was stunned when I read it. This issue earns four Tonys.
ANNIHILATION: RONAN continues to be the least interesting of the four ANNIHILATION mini-series. Set about a month ahead of the others, it follows the convicted-of-sedition Kree accuser tracking down the woman he believes gave false testimony against him. Ronan isn't an appealing or interesting protagonist. His adventures seem to have little to do with the main event. His battle with Gamora in this third issue [$2.99] is pretty much a standard punch-'em-up. Big yawn.
At the end of this issue, it looks as if Ronan is returning to the Kree Empire to fight against the Annihilation Wave. Next issue is gonna have to be one heck of a finale to win me back...and the best I can do for this issue is one Tony.
More ANNIHILATION reviews later this week.
C.S.I. IN THE COMICS
I'm a big fan of the CSI television shows, comic books, and, when I get the chance to read them, novels. So, when I come across C.S.I. references in comic strips, I can't resist the urge to save them and add them to my "Comics in the Comics" file. Begging your kind indulgence, here's Dan Piraro's BIZARRO panel from February 22 of this year:
In August, Monty Montahue, the star of Jim Meddick's MONTY, was falsely charged with murder and sent to prison. After spending weeks in the stir, he was cleared by the dedicated investigators of the newest addition to the C.S.I. franchise:
The above strips are from September 22 and 23.
I will have some "Comics in the Comics" for you later in the week. But, every now and then, expect comic strips and panel that reflect some of my other interests.
NEWSWEEK [September 26, 2006] had a short piece about CANCER VIXEN by Marisa Acocella Marchetto [Knopf; $22] in its "Periscope" section. It's a real-life graphic novel describing THE NEW YORKER cartoonist's bout with cancer. What little I've seen of this book intrigues me, so you can expect me to review it somewhere as soon as I can score a copy. In the meantime, check out this very cool animation:
Speaking of NEWSWEEK, the mag is clearly in a state of denial when it comes to my deliberately-lapsed subscription. According to the label, my last issue was July 17, 2006. But it keeps showing up in my mailbox week after week without fail. Hey, I love getting free magazines as much as anyone, but I don't expect to re-up until my financial situation improves considerably. I have to cut those corners wherever I can.
NEWSWEEK...if you really love me, let me go. If it was meant to be, I'll come back to you.
Each and every week, we give you new TONY POLLS questions for your voting amusement. Around the beginning of the month, we asked you these questions.
PLUTO has been reclassified as a dwarf planet. I think it should be renamed. Which of these names would you pick?
After reading the first five issues and reviewing them in my August 21 "Tony's Other Online Tips" column for the Comics Buyer's Guide website, I cast a vote of VERY GOOD. If you'd like to read my BLUE BEETLE review, head over to...
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.
ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.
TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?
THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.
FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?
FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.
Please send material you would like me to review to: